Diet highlights isle-grown food
A Big Isle resident's experiment gives her greater appreciation of social issues
KAILUA-KONA » When Andrea Dean sat down for her Thanksgiving meal, it was with a greater appreciation than in years past.
Dean, 41, of Hawi, spent three months earlier in the year restricting her diet to island-grown foods. That meant no pasta or bread made with imported grain, no guava jam with imported sugar and, horror of all horrors, no chocolate.
"I was really nervous, but I found I had so much variety," said Dean, a media production/project manager and mother of a teenage boy.
She was not interested in making a social statement or a grand gesture.
"When I moved to Hawaii in 1989, it was to live a more natural life," she said. "It was time to stop letting circumstances get in the way and start letting that manifest itself."
So for February, March and April, Dean passed up the aisles and aisles of processed foods at grocery stores and gave up fast-food restaurants.
"It was just a personal experiment," she said. "I don't know if the whole island can survive this way, but I wanted to see if one woman could do it."
Dean did several weeks of research and emptied a pint container of Ben & Jerry's chocolate peanut butter ice cream before beginning.
"I knew the challenge would be the staples," she said. "The fruits and vegetables were easy -- taro, breadfruit, sweet potatoes, corn, squash."
Once she began scouring the local farmer's market, she realized she needed not a dieter's discipline, but organization.
"It was time-consuming, and it's a real trade-off about where you want to spend your time," she said. "I understood why housewives of the 1950s were so excited about the invention of processed foods."
Dean settled into a routine each Tuesday and Friday of shopping, washing, peeling, tossing, mixing, roasting and boiling her haul from the farmer's market.
She tracked down regular sources of macadamia nut oil and Hawaii sea salt to add to her home-grown herbs.
She discovered she could do amazing things with eggs, milk, pumpkin, banana, freshly grated ginger, honey, macadamia nut butter and whole vanilla beans.
Although as a fish-only vegetarian, she passed on island-grown pork, beef and poultry, Dean found she could satisfy all but one nutritional and dietary requirement.
"I got so desperate for chocolate," she said.
But a farmer friend came to the rescue, offering cacao beans that Dean pulverized and added to her Kona coffee, banana, honey and macadamia nut smoothies.
Dean said she was aided by an understanding husband, Topher, and a son, Kanoe, 14, who delighted in discovering new and exotic Big Island produce.
"They didn't do the full experiment," she said. "They ate pasta and rice."
They also become fans of the salads and soups Dean rustled up each week.
"My son especially got really enthusiastic about all the new fruits I brought home from the farmer's markets," she said.
The rest of the family did not last the three months. Her son eventually baked a vanilla cake with lemon-custard filling and chocolate ganache frosting. Her husband baked three loaves of bread.
The family made two significant changes following Dean's taste-bud trial. All their vegetables now come from local sources, and they have rededicated themselves to their own patch of land.
It also gave her much food for thought as she studied up on the island's social issues related to food -- obesity and poor health, food security, economic dependency on the visitor and real estate industries, and overflowing landfills.
She contemplated which of the two greatest motivators -- love or fear -- was at the root of her self-imposed challenge.
"It was definitely motivated by fear, by not having food," she said. "There's a lot of reasons to look beyond if the ships stop coming here to our island. We need to start planning ahead a few generations."
In addition to enjoying a healthier diet and a better understanding of local and global food issues, 5-foot-3 Dean found one other plus: She lost six pounds.